Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Because tonight's drive included Sylvia Poggioli's piece on Ratko Mladic...

(this one)... it seems an appropriate occasion for this piece I wrote a few years back.

Sylvia Poggioli doesn’t know it, but she helped me learn to drive.

Her voice, covering the war and peacekeeping in Kosovo, defined the spring of 1999. I was sixteen, a newly permitted driver, and NPR was the soundtrack to my driving lessons.

Although I took the more-or-less-required commercial driver’s ed class, my mother was my primary driving teacher. (My dad had given me a few lessons, but it didn’t take long for us all to decide that Mom’s temperament was better suited to the learning curve. Dad ended up with the college visits.) Initially, she decided that the radio wasn’t going to be on at all when I was behind the wheel. As I got the basics under control, NPR nudged its way into the speakers.

The UN peacekeeping mission was just getting underway as I got comfortable behind the wheel, and Sylvia was on almost every day.

Maybe that was what turned on my news junkie switch. Growing up I’d always paid attention to current events – friends like to remind me that when I was three or four years old, I explained to them that I read Newsweek “to get informed” – but not as much I did during the second half of high school. I tried not to admit that I usually listened to Morning Edition when I started driving to school – but I knew that the drive usually took 11 minutes, which generally meant that I was listening to the first story after the newscast when I pulled into the parking lot.

In my senior year, I had a free period every morning. Most days I spent the time in the library, keeping up with a news repertoire that included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Yes, I was a nerd.

Sylvia Poggioli’s reports from Kosovo didn’t spark my interest in journalism, but they helped to shape it. Part of me wanted to be there with her, breaking the stories of the war and telling the world about a people’s fight to survive. (A more sensible part of me knew that I wouldn’t last long under foreign correspondent conditions, which is why I’m not writing this from Colombia.)

(Post pic: self-portrait at the wheel, many years after I learned to drive. And taken while the car was not in motion, obviously.)

No comments: